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Friday, July 15, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Rating: ★★

"Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Optimus?"

You know your movie is in trouble when you’re 20 minutes in and there’s no discernable plot. That’s also an indication that your movie is directed by Michael Bay. Also, that it’s part of the Transformers series. A general rule of screenwriting is that you have to hook your audience in the first ten pages (one page equals about one minute). Transformers assumes its audience is hooked from the first trailer, expecting people to shell out money for the tickets like they would for the refills of popcorn. And, of course, they were right. This is one of the biggest films of the year, and there seems to be no stopping it.

What we don’t seem to know about American history is that during the Apollo 11 moon landing, the astronauts discovered alien life. Not just any alien life, but the Transformers. Buzz Aldrin and his team unearthed a transport ship carrying “pillars” that were meant to build a space bridge, transporting pieces of the doomed planet Cybertron to a new location. Where? Well, if you’ve seen the last two movies, you can piece that together. We have the Autobots and the Decepticons locked in eternal war, battling for control of their race. Make? Design? Can we even call the Transformers a race? Whatever. That part isn’t important. What is important, however, is that the Autobots have formed an alliance with the humans and there’s… a war. Again. For a third time.

The flaw in the Transformers movies is that there’s the plot, and then there’s the action. And then there's the last hour of the movie that the two shall never meet. Think of it like the old adage - “Sex scenes in movies help drive the plot. Plot in porn helps drive the sex scenes.” The action scenes in Transformers, and in most action movies these days, drive what little plot there is. And by drive, I mean hammer. Right into the ground. There’s excess, and then there’s “a film by Michael Bay”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the mythology the films have set up, let me break it down for you. There’s this kid, Sam Whitwicky (Shia LeBeauf) who got a car. Not just a car, but a classic Chevy that is actually a transformer. And there are other Transformers and they do some things. That’s really the extent of it. Yes, fans will cry “foul!” over that description, but that is sincerely all there is to make of it. If you can go further and not make me laugh, be my guest.

The problem, and this is the most integral problem of the whole franchise, is that it’s hard to care for a hunk of metal. The only reason that people are involved at all is, instinctively, because these hunks of metal come with power windows, four-wheel drive, automatic locks, plenty of trunk space, but absolutely zero personality. So, to circumvent that, we’re given Shia LeBeauf and John Turturro. That, and a slew of other actors. Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson... all actors too talented for a mess like this.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fan of Megan Fox - I think she has a lot more on the ball than people are giving her credit for; and there’s a lot of talk about the disputes between her and Michael Bay during the filming of these films (hence her being replaced in this). But, that’s a story for another article. The point is, the actors are the best part, and the dialogue, no matter how inane, is always well delivered. Michael Bay has that part right - the easiest way to hook your audience in an action film is good, quick dialogue; not just big, loud explosions.

Bay is a talented filmmaker who makes bad movies. Sure - the story goes that with the second Transformers, that got critically destroyed, there was no script, the actors improvised most of their lines, Megan Fox wasn’t even present for most of the filming, etc. There’s all that - and then there’s the fact that even while Michael Bay can direct his actors to say things well, and then put a couple of big, snazzy explosions in between those lines, he just can’t tell a coherent story. There’s the miracle film of his called The Rock, and then there’s everything else. Big, pretty, loud, fun =/= intelligent.